FDU MFA Alum Bill Mesce Jr. on Second Chances & A Cold and Distant Place
FDU MFA Alum Bill Mesce Jr. on second chances:
Every once in a great while an author is given a second chance to get a published piece of work right. Stephen King used the leverage of his phenomenal success to get Doubleday to republish his 1978 post-apocalyptic epic The Stand in 1990 but with the restoration of approximately 400 pages of material he’d cut from the original edition. Thomas E. Kennedy rewrote his already published four-novel series, Copenhagen Quartet, for its re-release by Bloomsbury Press when the original publisher folded. Although I am not in the commercial league of Stephen King nor do I pretend to be of the literary caliber of Thomas E. Kennedy, Endeavour Press has given me the same opportunity.
Between 2000-2003, Bantam published my trilogy of WW II novels featuring Army lawyer Harry Voss. While working on the third novel – The Defender – Bantam and I came to different creative views of what the final book should be. I felt the novels had been about one man’s journey through the war, with that arc coming to a climactic point in the third novel. Bantam, on the other hand, had viewed the novels as legal thrillers, and wanted the series to continue in that vein. Unless you have the commercial sway of a King or the literary cachet of a Kennedy, the author tends to lose such arguments, as I did. The manuscript was cut by more than half emphasizing the courtroom section of the novel, and an ending was written leaving the door open for further entries. There would, however, be no further Harry Voss novels, and Harry’s story was, I felt, left incomplete.
When Endeavour Press approached me about re-releasing the series, they allowed me to replace The Defender with the restored third novel, A Cold and Distant Place.
November 1944, the Soviets are hammering away at the Germans in the East, while in the West the Americans and British have broken out of the Normandy beachhead and chased the Germans clear across France. But with the Rhine at their backs, the Germans retrench along the Western front. A fight for strategic Hill 399 has gone badly for the Americans, and the conduct of Lieutenant Dominick Sisto (introduced in Officer of the Court) during the battle has left him charged with those most reprehensible of military crimes: mutiny and desertion under fire.
Harry Voss serves in Rome investigating war crimes committed during the German occupation, treading on sensitive toes with what he’s uncovered about the Vatican’s connection to a massacre of civilians. His old friend and one-time commanding officer, Joe Ryan, appears one night to ask him to take on Sisto’s case. Sisto, whom Harry had practically raised as a child, desperately needs him, and the case will also get Harry away from a situation his discoveries are sure to make professionally dangerous.
It has been a long time since Harry has been in a courtroom. To help him he enlists his one-time subordinate, Peter Ricks, now scarred in mind and body from his tour of combat in Italy, as well as the cynical, savvy Scottish journalist (and narrator of the series) Eddie Owen. Harry’s problems during the trial which takes place in a remote castle in Belgium go beyond his dogged courtroom opposition. A conviction puts Sisto in the noose or in prison for 20 years, but an acquittal only wins Sisto a place back on the front lines.
The courtroom battle will be eclipsed by an even bigger fight: the opening hours of The Battle of the Bulge, the largest battle to take place on the Western front during WW II. Amid the fire and smoke and the brutality of close and desperate combat, Harry will discover not only the truth about what happened at Hill 399, but the larger truth about what war can do to even the best of men.
Praise for A Cold and Distant Place:
“Bill Mesce’s A Cold and Distant Place – as were the first two novels of his great WWII trilogy – is savvy and ironic and funny and exciting and heartrending. Mesce knows how to write and he knows the war and the military and the courtroom, and he knows his characters and brings history to life in words. A riveting page-turner that reduces the glory of war, of even victory, to a very human scale.”
Thomas E. Kennedy, author of The Copenhagen Quartet
“…a bold, cruel, and ambitious examination of a small episode in an ugly war that unexpectedly opens up into a sweeping panorama of memory and emotion, culminating in some of the most stunning battle scenes ever put on paper…a tremendous novel of war and men’s souls, like The Red Badge of Courage, or The Thin Red Line. It’s a book to make strong men weep.”
Steven G. Szilagyi, author, Photographing Fairies,
Winner, Pushcart & Bennett Cerf Prizes
“…a mighty epic with a page-turning opening battle scene, and, in the closing pages, Harry Voss gets his final salute. A touching end to the trilogy…I can’t get the words outta my head.”
Sean Michael Rice, award-winning playwright,
Pushcart Prize nominee
“A hell of a book…The best of the (trilogy)…”
John Hawkins Agency
“It is a story waiting to be told… a military novel dedicated to the men who fought in the Huertgen Forest, and the resulting fog of war, and what war does to men’s souls.”
Prof. Robert Schnare, Director,
Bill Boyd Library at the Naval War College
“…a major human interest story for our time…harrowing…mentally and physically – and, to me at least, spiritually – exhausting…may be set in an actual event in WW II, but it’s as contemporary as any story happening any time in human history…”
Ron Owens, UPI DC bureau editor (ret’d)
“…a wonderful war novel…I stopped at two am last night only because I was getting too tired (to continue)…I have finished it now, and I am still in tears from the emotional impact of the story. It is by far the best of the three Harry Voss novels – I will miss him so. This is a book I would recommend unconditionally to all my friends with military experience, with fathers who served – in any war – and to my mother, a war widow who lived through WW II in England, in love with an American fighter pilot ‘somewhere in Belgium’…”
Lt. Col. Hillary Morgan (ret’d), intelligence officer,
attorney with USAF’s Court of Criminal Appeals,
and with the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Armed Forces
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